Are Identity Theft Protection Services Worth It?
You may be concerned about identity theft these days, and with good reason. If someone assumes your identity they can open new credit cards, raid your bank accounts, ruin your employment prospects, or even commit crimes for which you are blamed. With so much at stake, many people are paying $20 or more a month for identity theft protection services. But are they wasting their money? Here's the scoop...
Is Identity Theft Protection Effective?
Todd Davis, founder of identity theft protection service LifeLock, became famous for billboards that bore his Social Security Number and a dare to ID thieves: "Steal my identity" which was protected by LifeLock, of course. Well, it turns out they did, at least thirteen times! In 2010, LifeLock was ordered by the Federal Trade Commission to pay more than $12 million in fines for false and misleading adverting.
Although LifeLock has since changed their advertising and the means they use to spot identity fraud, no identity theft protection service can absolutely ensure that your identity will not be stolen! In fact, LifeLock's own adverstising carries the disclaimer that "no one can prevent all identity theft or cybercrime, and LifeLock does not monitor all transactions at all businesses."
The problem is that your identity can be vulnerable to theft from sources far outside of your control, or even sources that you don't know about. Most data breaches occur at merchants, service providers, government agencies, and other institutions to which you have given your personal information, and at still others to whom those entities have given your information without your knowledge.
Most people's identities are exposed to theft in so many different places that it is impossible to protect them all. You have to rely upon the security measures taken by those entities to protect you. Until quite recently, many business, government offices, and even one credit bureau were lax about protecting personal information from theft. (See Equifax Takes The Data Breach Cake.)
According to researchers, about 10% of Americans fall victim to identity theft each year. The Identity Theft Research Center reports that there were 1244 security breaches involving the theft of over 440 million sensitive records in 2018, the last year for which reporting was released. Major retailers, banks, government agencies, utility companies, schools, and other institutions left the doors open in often stupendously stupid ways. There is nothing that LifeLock or any other identity theft protection service can do to force third parties to protect your data. So what do you get for your subscription fee (or "insurance policy")?
What Protection is Actually Offered from Identity Theft?
LifeLock and its competitors monitor the activity of your identity online and in the economy. They monitor applications for credit cards, bank accounts, and other financial instruments made in your name. They look for "unusual activity" and alert you to it; effectively asking, "Hey, did you really do this?" If you didn't, then some thief may have, and it's time to hit the panic button.
If it appears that your identity has been stolen and is being misused, LifeLock can take care of alerting credit card companies and other institutions for you. Accounts can be locked or closed; new credit cards issued; and other measures taken to thwart thieves' use of your identity. But that won't stop a shoplifter who's caught by police from giving them your name and address as his own.
Repairing the damage done by identity theft is a years-long, painful, and expensive process. Some things that you never did may remain on your record forever. In one case, a sex offender used another man's identity, and the innocent man was told by authorities that his name can never be removed from databases of sex offenders.
LifeLock and others in the fraud protection business promise to help you repair the damage if you are a victim of identity theft. But how far they'll actually go depends on where you live, and plan you've selected. The Lifelock Terms of Service is 8,297 words of legalese, and the document entitled Evidence of Coverage: All Members Except NY and WA State Residents spells out how much they will pay out to help you, based on your membership in one of the 24 plans listed. (See the Legal Information and Resources page if you live in New York or Washington State.)
Interestingly, in the Exclusions section, you'll find that the policy does not cover losses arising from nuclear radiation, radioactive contamination, terrorism or "loss or damage resulting from or arising out of a Cyber Attack."
I don't personally know anyone who has suffered from identity theft while a LifeLock subscriber, and then tried to submit a claim for help. I do know one person who suspected that her mother (a LifeLock subscriber) had become an ID theft victim. Fortunately, it was a false alarm. But she says that LifeLock certainly did everything she would have wanted, when it came to investigating the situation, and that gave her confidence that LifeLock would have honored their guarantee if there had been a real problem.
Here's the bottom line… Identity theft protection services can provide you with some protection from identity theft, but they cannot guarantee that it will never happen. And if it does, they will provide some assistance in cleaning up the mess, but don't expect them to make it like it never happened. You'll have to decide if that's worth the $10 to $49 a month that may cost.
Do you have something to say about identity theft? Have you had an incident that was successfully resolved by an identity theft protection provider? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 3 Apr 2020
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Are Identity Theft Protection Services Worth It? (Posted: 3 Apr 2020)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved